Young couple paying bills
Bill Assistance Program Helped 1,000 Customers in April 04/14/2020

As a community-owned, nonprofit utility, we have always worked with our customers in crisis, and this time is no different.

EWEB's Customer Care program provides a $260 bill credit annually to customers who meet income guidelines. In response to the coronavirus, EWEB increased the amount of funding available in April and expanded the program to also cover customers who experience a job loss related to the pandemic.

As a result, 1,000 customers received bill assistance this month alone. Comparing that to the average of 580 customers per month helped in the first three, pre-COVID months of 2020, shows the scale of financial hardship in our community.

But even with nearly triple the funding for April, the program was fully allocated within an hour when applications opened on April 1.

"We know these are challenging times and we want to do our part to help, alongside city, state and federal efforts," said Anna Wade in EWEB's Customer Solutions Office. "At the same time, we recognize that the widespread economic consequences of this crisis mean the need will certainly outstrip the availability of funds."

Programs struggle to keep up with demand

According to the Oregon Employment Department, initial claims for the week ending April 4, 2020 surpassed the highest number of weekly claims seen during the Great Recession for the third week in a row.  

As the economic consequences continue to unfold, many support programs are experiencing the challenges of supply and demand.  

Lane County, the City of Springfield, the City of Eugene, and Community LendingWorks created a Small Business Emergency Loan Fund (SBELF) to help local businesses but due to high demand, the fund is currently unavailable and interested businesses are being asked to submit an application to be put on the waiting list.

EWEB increasing funds through June

When EWEB's Customer Care program opens once again on May 1 and June 1, the utility will more than double the funding available.  

In the time period of April to June, the bill assistance program will serve more than 2,600 households, and by year-end, nearly 7,000 households could receive the EWEB bill credit.  

"At this point, we don't know how long the economic impacts will last," said Anna. "We are continuing to assess the funds that are available and help as many customers as we can, for as long as we can."  

Maintaining a focus on affordability

In addition to EWEB's COVID assistance programs, doing our part means maintaining an on-going focus on affordability for all customers.  

This year marked the fifth time in the past six years with no residential electric price increase and the third year in a row with no jump in residential water prices.  

Also this year, EWEB expanded income-based efficiency rebates and loans to upgrade heating systems, insulation, windows and water heaters, in some cases covering up to 100 percent of the costs.  

"One of the most effective ways we can help customers on a sustained basis is to help them lower utility bills while internally managing administrative costs," said Anna. 

Accessing assistance

If you were unable to access bill assistance funds in April prior to program close, we encourage you to apply next month. Applications will re-open May 1 at 9.a.m. and are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are fully allocated for the month.  

In addition to the expanded bill credit, EWEB has suspended shut-offs and late-fees. We ask that if you start to fall behind on payments, please reach out to inquire about programs that could be beneficial to avoid accruing a large overdue balance.  

If you have an efficiency loan through EWEB, we can defer payments upon request. We can also make flexible payment arrangements for customers experiencing a reduction in pay due to slowing business conditions, or those forced to take unpaid leave due to coronavirus mitigation effort.  

Learn more about EWEB's COVID-19 crisis response, and how to apply for bill assistance.